Winter Steam Spectacle

Winter Steam Spectacle in China: 17.01. – 30.01.2014


Recently I asked in a newsletter whether or not there was any interest in another winter steam spectacle tour. Yes, there was and so here it is. But things have changed: Sandaoling has only one year of steam as we’ve known it for the last two years, then they will hand over the operation to trucks as they did in the eastern part of the pit already. In Fuxin you need to pay some 60 Pounds permission fee per day each to get access to the steamiest sites. Pingzhuang has closed the open cast mine. The last real steam is fading out. But what a sunset of steam! They do not sit idle in a siding and wait for a failed diesel to replace it. They still need to work very hard.

You can book this trip together with the forestry line trip, separately or in parts.

much steam in Fuxin, for such a picture you need fortune






Individual flight to Shenyang, flights can be booked by FarRail Tours


Meeting the group at Shenyang airport, charter bus to Diaobingshan (ca. 70 km), hotel in Diaobingshan/Tieling.


Line siding and visit to the stabling point of Diaobingshan (SY), hotel in Diaobingshan/Tieling


Line siding around Diaobingshan, in the late afternoon we’ll continue to Fuxin, hotel in Shenyang


Visit to the mine system of Fuxin (half a dozen SYs), visit to the stabling point during shift change, hotel in Shenyang


Visit to the mining railway system of Fuxin and visit to the workshop, evening continue to our hotel in Chifeng


Line siding along the coal railway and in the washery station of Pingzhuang (class SY), hotel in Chifeng


Line siding in Pingzhuang. Late afternoon we’ll go to Chifeng. Overnight train 2560 to Beijing, departure around 21 hrs


about 6 hrs arrival in Beijing Bei. For those with an interest in culture we'll offer the full Beijing package including a visit to the Great Wall, the summer palace, the Forbidden City, a cyclo tour through old Beijing and so on. We'll stay in a hotel in Beijing all the time.
The others continue to the airport and flight to Urumqi (Wulumuqi), charter bus to Sandaoling, hotel in Sandaoling


Spectacular steam in Sandaoling (class JS and, maybe, an SY), visit to the open cast mine of Sandaoling with more than 200 steam train movements each day. We’ll focus on the mainly chimney first operating coal trains which need to work hard to bring the coal from the loading station in the pit to the loading place. Hotel in Sandaoling


Visit to the open cast mine of Sandaoling, we’ll focus mainly on the Xibolizhan area. Hotel in Sandaoling


Another visit to Sandaoling. In the morning we’ll visit the line to the deep mines Yijing and Erjing where loaded trains are usually run chimney first. In the afternoon we’ll visit the eastern end of the mine with the coal trains. Maybe we can take a sunset shot. Hotel in Sandaoling


We start the day in Dongbolizhan. After we’ve photographed the daily passenger train of Sandaoling we’ll head another time for Xibolizhan to take more shots of the spoil trains. Evening charter bus to Urumqi and late evening flight to Beijing.


Arrival in Beijing around midnight, hotel in Beijing. Hotel shuttle bus to the airport and return flight home, arrival in Europe in the same evening

update November 3rd, 2013


Diaobingshan: Steam along the "Faku-line"

Line description

First of all, we are at the edge of a steam-free age, so some of the locations are merely a shadow of their former self but still worth a visit. However, we can’t rule out that some of the lines on the list may have changed to diesel locomotives before we arrive or even closed down completely. Information is from spring 2013, months before we go to these sites. There is sometimes no substitute nearby if a line is dieselised or closed and we may have to cover many miles to reach the next steam location. This also applies for the forestry lines.

Sandaoling sunrise

Sandaoling has become the Mecca for railway enthusiasts. It’s not unusual that you can see six working locomotives at once. Sometimes overburden trains thrash over the gradients out of the pit every few minutes. In the moon-like countryside there are plenty of photographic opportunities. The four days we’ve planned for the visit to the steamiest hole on earth won’t be boring. We’re sure that you’ll still find new positions on the last day of our visit and may think about extending your stay rather than leaving earlier.

All coal trains from the loading facilities deep in the pit need to climb out of the open cast mine to reach the unloading place. This is an almost 4 miles thrash for the heavy trains. In the best case you can witness this spectacle about every half hour. Sometimes there is a gap of up to two hours, but then it starts again! Most of the coal trains are hauled chimney first out of the pit.


The pushed trains in the open cast pit are “push-pull” trains with a small signal wagon at the end of each train. With semaphores on the roof of these cabooses the loco driver gets the signal forward. This is a very unusual operation pattern in China and well worth photographing. Sunsets in Sandaoling can be amazing as well. There are quite a lot of reasons to go there but the main reason is that normally there are almost 20 JS working in the area! Where else in the world can you find such a concentration of steam motive power?

A visit to the workshop, the unloading point, the lower levels in the pit and the spoil dumps is not permitted any more. In the open cast mine there are several cameras, so an unauthorised visit is not recommended either. But we’re allowed to walk down to the first station after the loading point. On this section, from the unloading point to the first station inside the pit, you can take dozens of good shots. Conclusion: still the greatest steam show on earth.

2014 will be the last year of full steam operation at the western end of the pit. On the eastern side all rails are lifted already. It’s entirely operated by trucks now. Since then it’s covered in an enormous cloud of dust. From 2015 it will be the same in the still so busy western side of the pit. However, they decided to build the planned line to the new deep mine to the west of the open cast mine. Their plan is to use from the beginning steam locomotives. They will keep seven JS aside to be used on the new line. But construction is planned to take two years, a long time for them to decide to start with diesels instead …

The coal mine system at Diaobingshan (formerly Tiefa) was dieselised in 2004/2005 for freight services. The passenger trains remain steam hauled. In recent years, they ceased passenger service on three of their four lines and only the two pairs of passenger trains can be seen these days. Fortunately they’re running on the longest and most scenic line of the whole system. The line goes to Dongguantun, better known as Faku; the most scenic section lies between Diaobingshan and Faku. Recently we’ve always needed to charter a steam train here because passenger trains on this particular line were diesel operated. Now, as it is the last survivor of the passenger trains, it’s steam operated as it used to be until the mid-2000s. Trains pass through a tunnel on this line. As they have neither a turntable nor use their wye at the terminus, locomotives run tender first in one direction and chimney first the other. It’s unpredictable which trains will be tender and which ones chimney first but we have our contacts to find out. The tender first operation is a superb chance to travel on a regular, steam hauled passenger train. It’s the longest non-tourist steam hauled passenger turn anywhere in the world nowadays. A visit to the stabling point is planned as well. Diaobingshan’s SYs are nicely maintained and include two 1999 built engines. They are still capable of doing heavy overhauls, but if this will happen ever again is doubtful. In case there is a steam loco under repair or overhaul we’ll also visit the workshop. If there is no locomotive in it’s a rather boring place, not worth visiting.

Diaobingshan: on the Dongguantun-line


Chasing the trains by bus is possible between Faku and Dongguantun, but absolutely hopeless between Faku and Diaobingshan. Even in the section where chances are good to catch it twice or three times it depends on the traffic and our bus driver whether or not we can make it.

In 2013 Fuxin had an operation of about half a dozen SYs. Several diesels are in use as well. There are very interesting shots with grim industrial and mine backdrops possible. The daily line up at the shift change is a sight in itself. Many of the small houses along the lines have been demolished and replaced by modern buildings now but there are still positions left which are worth pointing the camera at. Small and larger coal mines and new apartment blocks next to the line predominate the railway area. A level crossing just at the stabling point offers plenty of opportunities with road traffic on two, three and four wheels as well while the little depot and the tidy workshop are really good and rare these days.

steam and lcal traffic in Fuxin

workshop Fuxin

Fuxin in 2014 will be just a glimpse of what it has been, but even this little part is such a powerful playground for photographers and video film makers that there is hardly any competition from Europe. The density of possible exciting industrial shots per square inch is similar to what you can find in Europe per square mile, in the best case!

The centres of steam operation which are the stabling point, the depot and the workshop require us to pay for a permit. The allowed stay is, however, limited, especially in their workshop. On the other hand, one hour is a good while for capturing plenty of good stuff.

The open cast mine of Pingzhuang was closed in 2012. In winter 2012/13 we only found a single engine shunting the track demolition train. But there is still the railway system to the underground mines, and this is entirely steam operated. The line to the underground mines offers some nice, rural line shots and some industrial backdrops. On two major gradients on this line locomotives have to work hard. The bridge before the line enters the state railway station at Pingzhaung Nan is one of the better spots in the system. When the train goes over these gradients it’s not only an optical highlight, to listen to their sound is worth the visit as well.

Pingzhuang Nanzhan

There is another rural line through an open countryside to a deep mine which doesn’t see many trains. We’ll stay in contact with the control office to make sure not to miss one of the rare trains on this beautiful line. Unfortunately the information from the control office has a very short half life and is not helpful, sometimes.

Next to the washery is a stabling point where the SYs are cared for while serving the underground mines. Sometimes there can be all three SYs in the washery station with its impressive, old-style mining building in the backdrop.

Besides the new diesels in Yuanbaoshan, there have survived a few of their immaculate JS class 2-8-2s. These engines carry big smoke deflectors which make them exceptionally attractive. Usually the diesels cover most of the trains but just in case the mixed train in the morning is steam hauled we’ll pay Yuanbaoshan a brief visit. It’s not possible to guarantee anything but the chances are about 50/50 that we’ll see this remarkable train steam hauled. The line has a nice, long bridge and, at the Fengshuigou end, a steep gradient to be tackled when they run a train to the state railway. This happens about once a week, so we need to be lucky here.


Small Print

The tour was planned in spring 2013. Although it’s only a few months before we go to China it’s not certain that all lines will still have steam. In the unlikely case one line will be dieselised or closed before we arrive, we will make different arrangements to see as much steam as possible.


We expect morning temperature around minus ten to minus 30 degrees Centigrade in the north and up to zero degrees Centigrade in the afternoon in Beijing as well as in the western part of China. The photo equipment usually has no problems with these temperatures, it’s only the batteries. When not using them you should pack them in a warm place. We can warm up in our charter train or charter bus any time, so it’s not too difficult to stand the hard winter with the right clothing.

The voltage in China is 220 Volts, 50 Hz. You’ll need an adaptor for the power outlets. China uses the European mobile phone (GSM) standard.

This tour is designed for both dedicated photographers and video film makers. Our philosophy is to provide opportunities to get that perfect sunrise shot rather than a time consuming 5-star breakfast buffet. Breakfast and lunch may be served as a packed meal. Dinner is planned to be a proper (Chinese) meal. Times for meals can vary. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

Hotels, charter buses and trains represent the standard of our host country, which may deviate from European or North American expectations. While we will endeavour to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require an extra but worthwhile effort.

Tender show in Sandaoling

The hotels used will be of medium class but in remote areas sometimes they are more basic. A hot shower and a private bath are available everywhere, except in the forests. Single rooms are available in all the hotels but not on overnight trains.

Overnight train rides are booked in soft sleeper class (four berth compartments). As the reservation system in China is a typical quota system where the station of origin typically gets an allotment of 50 % of the available tickets, it is not guaranteed that we can get soft sleeper tickets for all our rides. In such cases we’ll use hard sleeper class, which, however, is not as hard as the name suggests. Hard sleeper compartments are open and normally comprise six berths.

Hygienic and environmental standards in China do not conform to Central European, Australian or North American expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable. Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in China falls short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.



While booking your international flight please also book the connecting flight to Shenyang or fly directly to the international airport of Shenyang. Booking a through ticket is much cheaper compared to two separate tickets (one to Beijing and another one from Beijing to Shenyang). If you need help, FarRail Tours can book an appropriate flight for you. In any case you need to pick up your luggage in Beijing and check it in again. This procedure is for customs. You need to do it even if you already hold your boarding pass for the Beijing - Shenyang leg.

Winter Steam Spectacle 11 to 25 participants £2,480
17.01.2014 – 30.01.2014 Single room surcharge £160
Registration Deadline: 31.10.2013

The price includes:

Not included are:



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